History of the Scotch Church from the Introduction of Christianity to the Establishment of the Great Charter of the Church (2)

From Scotch and Irish Seeds in American Soil by Rev. J. G. Craighead

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CHAPTER I.continued

In the mean time events rapidly culminated. The lords and chief gentry who were devoted to Protestantism resolved to meet at Edinburgh, and there determine what was best to be done in the present crisis. On assembling they resolved to stand steadfast in the defence of the Reformed religion, and entered into a common bond or covenant for the support of each other and to maintain the gospel. This league was formed December 3, 1557, and was subscribed by the earls of Argyle, Glencairn and Morton, and by a great number of other distinguished men among the barons and influential country gentlemen. This is truly a remarkable document, especially when we consider the times and circumstances in which it was drawn up. The demands made in it upon the queen-regent were few and moderate, showing both their loyalty and their desire to avoid all conflict with the civil power. The subscribers insisted, however, that the curates and pastors should discard the use of Latin in their services and perform them in the English language, which the people understood, and they promised to apply their “whole power, substance and their very lives,” to maintain “faithful ministers who would purely and truly minister Christ’s evangel and sacraments to his people.” Subsequently, they claimed that the election of ministers should be made by the people, according to the custom of the primitive Church, and that great diligence should be exercised by those who presided at such elections, so that men of unholy lives or holding erroneous doctrines should not be retained in the sacred office. It was also afterward provided by act of council that “it should be lawful for every one that could read, to use the English version of the Bible until the prelates should publish a more correct one.” Continued and strenuous efforts also were made by the nobility and gentry to suppress all superstitious rites and practices—including the mass—which seek “to destroy the evangel of Christ and his congregation.”

The time of conflict now drew nigh when these principles would be subjected to the severest test in the persons of their adherents. The queen, under the influence of her brothers, the princes of the French house of Lorraine, was to be used as the instrument for the suppression of the Reformation, not only in Scotland, but throughout Europe. As Mary was also the nearest heir to the English crown, it was thought that the best method to secure their design would be first to suppress the Reformation and establish the French and papal powers in her realm, and from thence assail England. In order to accomplish this, it was necessary that the crown-matrimonial of Scotland should be secured to Mary’s husband, the son of the king of France and heir to the throne. The queen employed every artifice in her power to induce the Protestant nobility to consent to recognize her husband Francis and herself as king and queen of Scotland. By her solemn promise that she would “protect their preachers and themselves from the malice and hatred of the bishops and promote the reformation of religion,” she succeeded only too well in her scheme.

But the mask she wore was thrown aside so soon as she had gained her purpose. At once she adopted measures to banish or silence the Protestant ministers. Though overawed in her plans for a time by the resolute attitude of the nobility, she only awaited a more favorable opportunity to renew the attempt. Four of the preachers of the Reformed doctrines, distinguished for their eloquence and boldness, were summoned to appeal before the court at Stirling, May 10, 1558, to stand trial for “usurping the ministerial office and exciting seditions and tumults among the people.”

At this critical period the Protestant cause received a most important accession of strength in the person of John Knox, who had returned from the Continent at the earnest entreaty of the Scotch nobility, they promising to jeopardize their lives in the cause of true religion. His arrival at this opportune moment produced consternation in the hearts of the prelates. Already they had felt the keenness of his blade, and their corrupt system still reeled under the terrible blows he had dealt it. Instead of attacking the outposts, Knox had turned his heavy artillery on the very citadel of the enemy, boldly maintaining that the papal Church of Rome was Antichrist. Disdaining all compromises with the apostate Church, rejecting everything in doctrine and government which had no higher authority than was derived from its teaching or practice, his final and sole appeal was to the word of God. From Knox’s appearance on the scene we may date the real beginning of the Reformation in Scotland.

After the death of Wishart, Knox had gone to England, and finally to the Continent, where he found a welcome refuge in the little republic of Geneva. Here he formed an intimacy with Calvin, a kindred spirit to his own, and in friendly conference and Scripture study matured his views of Church reform. Here, too, he found a system of order and discipline combined with pure doctrine which excited his greatest admiration. The more he studied it, the more enthusiastic was his approval of it, and from this period he became convinced that the Presbyterian form of church government was the one best adapted to his own country. And all the lessons which he learned by observation and through intercourse with the Genevan Reformers were garnered up for the service of the Church in his native land.

It was but the week previous to the trial of the ministers at Stirling that Knox landed at Leith. From the hour of his arrival he became the ruling spirit in the councils of the Lords of the Congregation. His presence encouraged his friends, and his words inspired them with his own zeal and firmness. Their antagonists could scarcely have been more disconcerted by the news of an invading army; for, while the papal fraternity were engaged in their deliberations in the monastery of Grayfriars, one of their number rushed in pale with terror, exclaiming in broken words, “John Knox! John Knox is come! he is come! He slept last night at Edinburgh!” They ceased to deliberate, broke up the council, and dispersed in confusion.

It was in vain that the queen-regent proclaimed him an outlaw and a rebel. His voice could neither be silenced nor his influence suppressed. Communicating his own courage in a large degree to the Protestant nobility, they resolved to defend their right of liberty of worship and to protect their pastors who had been put on trial. For this purpose they assembled at Perth with arms to enforce their just demands. But again were they deceived by the false promise of the queen-regent, who agreed that “if they would quietly disperse no steps should be taken against their ministers.” No sooner, however, had the Protestants returned to their homes than their pastors were denounced as rebels for not appearing for trial on the day originally named in the summons, and all persons were prohibited, “under pain of rebellion, to assist, comfort, receive or maintain them in any sort.”

The duplicity of the queen excited in the minds of Protestants the utmost contempt, and in that of the people at large a total loss of confidence. The prior of St. Andrews and the earl of Argyle retired in disgust from her councils and joined themselves to the Protestant cause. Strengthened by these and other valuable accessions, the Lords of the Congregation “framed and subscribed another bond, pledging them to mutual support and defence in the cause of religion.” They resolved, also, to abolish the idolatrous rites of popery, and to establish Protestant worship wherever the authority of the nobility or the favor of the people sanctioned it. Lord James Stewart, the prior of St. Andrews, who had recently joined the Reformers, invited Knox to preach publicly in the abbey on a certain day. The invitation was eagerly accepted, and on the 9th of June the preacher arrived at St. Andrews. The archbishop was enraged. He threatened that if John Knox should dare to appear in the pulpit of the cathedral “he should be saluted with a dozen of culverings, whereof the most part should light on his nose.” Fearing to expose the life of the preacher, as well as their own lives, to such imminent peril, some were disposed to retreat. But when Knox was consulted, he entreated them not to hinder him from preaching, for this was an opportunity for which he had longed and prayed and hoped; and “as for the fear of danger that may come to me, let no man be solicitous, for my life is in the custody of Him whose glory I seek. I desire the hand and weapon of no man to defend me. I only crave audience.”

This language was becoming him “who never feared the face of man.” The call he regarded as one of sacred duty, and his dauntless courage so inspired the lords that they ceased to think of danger. On the appointed day Knox appeared in the pulpit and preached to a large audience, including the archbishop and many of the inferior clergy, and no “culverings” were fired at him, for God restrained the fury of his enemies while his Spirit subdued the hearts of the people. His subject was our Lord’s driving the traders from the temple, which he applied to the duty of Christians to purify the Church and remove from it all the corruptions of papacy. For three days he preached in the same place, and the result was that the Reformed worship was established in the city, and the magistracy and people stripped the church of images and pictures.

Information of what had taken place not only at St. Andrews, but in the other parts of the kingdom, led the queen-regent to adopt vigorous measures to suppress the Lords of the Congregation. She raised an army, which was met by armed resistance on the part of the Protestants. After alternate reverses of both parties and a long war of diplomacy, the Protestants applied to Queen Elizabeth of England for aid, and with the assistance afforded by her army and fleet the French troops were driven from Scotland. In the treaty which followed it was stipulated that a free Parliament should be convened, which assembled in August, 1560. Both the circumstances in which they met and the subjects on which they were called to deliberate, constitute this the most important meeting of the estates of the kingdom that had as yet been held in Scotland. A petition by a number of Protestants was presented to this body, praying “that the anti-Christian doctrine maintained in the Popish Church should be discarded; that means should be used to restore purity of worship and primitive discipline; and that the ecclesiastical revenues should be applied to the support of a pious and active ministry, to the promotion of learning and to the relief of the poor.” In this petition we have the assertion of several great principles—purity of worship, return to primitive discipline and the proper support of a pious and devoted ministry—which subsequently were put into operation in the Scottish Church and made it a blessing and a power in the kingdom.

With respect to the first request of the petitioners, that of purity of worship, the Parliament required the Reformed ministers to lay before them a summary of doctrines agreeable to the Scriptures and which they wished established. This they did in a confession of twenty-five articles. It was read first before the lords of articles and then before the whole Parliament, and after due examination it was formally ratified by the Parliament, only three noblemen voting against it. This body also, August 24th, abolished the papal jurisdiction, prohibited the celebration of mass, and rescinded all the laws against the Reformed faith.

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